Recently my alma mater, Trinity Western University, had its law school approved by the B.C. Law society. However, there is controversy surrounding this issue because TWU is a private Christian university and it requires all its students to sign a Community Covenant. This covenant prohibits and condemns a number of stance and behaviors that are identified as sinful or unorthodox in many Evangelical Christian communities. Violating this covenant can lead to discipline and even expulsion. The covenant includes things like pornography, drinking alcohol, and any sexual intercourse outside of a marriage between a man and a woman.
Some in the queer (LGBTTQQIA2S) community raised concerns that this was a discriminatory practice against people who were not heterosexuals. Specifically they claim that because of the Community Covenant, members of their community would not be able to attend the law school at TWU or would be at risk of being expelled for their sexual orientation.
As both an alumnus of TWU and an ally of the queer community I am rather conflicted in this situation. For what it’s worth, I want to propose three things for consideration.
First, TWU is both more tolerant than some would believe and more intolerant than the official stance would suggest.
TWU correctly claims that no student has been expelled for being a member of the queer community. While I attended TWU there were openly gay students, though this was a new thing. Members of the queer community that were not public with their identity have also been part of TWU community. Rumor had it that at one point and time there were so many closeted queer students in attendance there was an underground newspaper run by this community. The overall attitude towards such students was not (at least from my perspective) overtly hostile. When another peer came out to a group of fellow students, we all embraced them and there were no lectures on “what Leviticus says” or things like that. There were (and I would bet are)
This, however, does not mean that TWU is a welcoming place for queer students and staff or that no discrimination has ever happened. A queer peer of mine was removed from leadership for pursuing a relationship with another student of the same sex. In hindsight, the concept of disciplining a student of any orientation for pursuing a romantic relationship is absurd. My gut instinct is that over the years similar instances have occurred. I suspect that queer students and alumni/alumnae might have their own experiences of microaggressions and discrimination that I have invited them to share here. (See the note at the end of this post.)
Overall, the wording of the Community Covenant and the actual culture at TWU lead to a problematic situation where it is technically okay to be queer, but you are not allowed to act queer (or at least act on any romantic impulses stemming from your alternative sexual/gender identity).
Second, while I am not opposed to a Law school at TWU, I think TWU has some deep issues to address that go far beyond the Community Covenant.
Currently, I am not categorically opposed to a Law school existing at TWU. Canada appears to accept that TWU, with its current Community Covenant, can exist as an accredited university that prepares people for a variety of professions, graduate schools and positions within society. I’m not exactly sure why the addition of an accredited Law school is fundamentally different from the current situation, although I am admittedly uninformed about the nature of Law school accreditation and applications in Canada. That being said, I believe TWU has issues deeper than the wording of its Community Covenant to address.
The Community Covenant at TWU is a product and expression of Evangelical Christian culture. I believe many in this culture have confused participating in and defending Evangelical Christian culture with actually following Jesus and living out a robust and nuanced understanding of the Gospel. This culture has increasingly become focused on hot button issues that received little or no comment in scripture or from Jesus, while basic teachings of Jesus are rarely discussed or taught, or even casually ignored.
I firmly believe the Evangelical Christian community needs to undergo intense soul-searching and a radical reformation in order to accurately reflect the teachings of Jesus. I do not believe the Community Covenant will change until this large issue is addressed (and funding realities at TWU become less dependent on an older, far less tolerant, generation of Christian donors).
Third, a challenge to my Evangelical Christian peers at TWU and elsewhere
While much more could be said about my last claim, in regards to this issue at TWU, I would encourage members of the Evangelical Christian community at TWU and elsewhere to consider two things that were actually instilled in to me during my training at TWU.
First, Evangelical Christians should consider if, who and how they are marginalizing different groups of people, especially in regards to our stance on some of these controversial issues. One thing instilled into my teachers at TWU was that the God of Israel was and is very concerned with the case of the marginalized, the oppressed and those with no advocate. Just because we believe we are defending a point of truth from the scriptures, does not mean we are categorically above God’s judgment if we are marginalizing and oppressing people.
In regards to the queer community, Evangelical Christians should not disconnect how the “issue” of the existence of queer persons and calls for marriage equality is talked about from issues faced by the queer community. For example, we should not disconnect the experiences of homeless queer youth, and the heightened risks they face (most of whom cite severe family conflict over their sexual/gender identity as their reason for being homeless) from how homosexuality is talked about in the Evangelical Christian culture. Condemnation of homosexuality, regardless of the volume or rhetoric employed, always carries the weight of divine condemnation because it is coming from spiritual leaders. This has consequences.
Second, I invite Evangelical Christians to take the sacred texts very seriously. Many Christians are dependent upon, and content to be dependent upon,the word of their pastor, a small group leader, or “pew-wisdom” passed around the congregation in regards to learning what the Bible says and means. This is a lazy attitude that ultimately shows a low value for the scriptures that we profess are divinely authored and authoritative for our lives today. It takes effort to understand an ancient text that is composed of various genres, written over centuries by different authors, in two different language, situated in two ancient cultures. However, if we believe these texts are sacred and authoritative, we should make that effort.
In regards to the queer community, I invite Evangelical Christians to actually consider the alleged scriptural foundations for the traditional condemnation of homosexuality for themselves. At TWU, I was a Biblical Studies major. I received the tools and training to truly read and interpret the scriptures for myself and to determine if something that was being taught was based on solid biblical scholarship or weak biblical scholarship. After the patient challenging of some friends, and my friendship with queer Christians, I eventually examined the scriptures that I had previously just assumed had been interpreted and taught correctly.
The result was that broke ranks with TWU, and the larger Evangelical Christian culture. I have written at length why I do not believe being a member of that community is inherently sinful and opposed to Christianity. I have written why even if Christians believe homosexuality is a sin, they should be okay with homosexual marriage. You may not come to the same conclusions, but at the very least I’m sure you will appreciate that the “clear” condemnation of homosexuality so many talk about is not so clear, and perhaps not even about homosexuality.
Note: While I am an alumnus of TWU and an ally of the queer community, I am not the ideal person to speak on the experience of queer persons at TWU. If any queer students or alumnus/alumnae of TWU would like to share their experiences or have already written about them, I would gladly repost them here on my blog.